By: Kris Needs
He’s a wonderful thing, baby: superlative selection of New York City gold!
Let’s get one thing straight: this is not Kid Creole’s greatest hits. Apparently that’s coming later this year on Universal. Timeless fun though they are, the 80s hits were only half the story. Kid Creole, or rather alter-ego August Darnell, was a studio wizard capable of working with artists as diverse as disco queen Cristina or fearsome jazz warrior James Chance. Refreshingly, this ‘pungent potpourri’, as the man calls it, has been compiled by a fan called DJ Guido, even surprising the music’s creator! It is nothing short of fabulous; spectacularly cross-cultural, musically trail-blazing and supremely funky.
Thomas Browder started playing bass and writing lyrics with older brother Stony’s Dr Buzzard’s Savannah Band in 1974, becoming August Darnell as first of several pseudonyms. He soon broke into production, scoring a massive New York club hit with Machine’s taboo-busting There But For The Grace Of God Go I, spending the rest of the decade in the eye of a creative hurricane producing a vibrant enclave of artists for Michael Zilkha’s groundbreaking Ze label. In 1980, Darnell left the Savannah Band and formed Kid Creole and the Coconuts, achieving stardom as the Tropical Gangster but leaving less time for this amazing array of side projects which remain among the greatest and sometimes unlikely examples of New York’s rampant musical cross-pollination at this time.
The wonderful iceberg’s-tip selection includes Coati Mundi, Gichy Dan, Dr Armando’s Second Avenue Rhumba Band, Ron Rogers and Bob Blank’s wildly-exotic Aural Exciters supergroup which included Mundi, Chance, legendary divas Taana Gardner and Fonda Rae and Lizzy Mercier Descloux. There’s also Cristina’s version of Lieber and Stoller’s Is That All There Is?, withdrawn after the composers violently objected. And of course early outings by Darnell’s newly-created Kid Creole persona, the title track from his debut Off The Coast Of Me album not only closing an essential document of a magical period in New York’s musical history but an overdue tribute to one man’s rapturous vision.
Q: Was it the intention to focus on your early productions in favour of the hits?
The new album's focus on the earlier stages of Darnellism is due to the fact that the album was not my brainchild. It was the idea of a DJ named Guido. He came upon Creolism late in life, became a fan and created a way to pay homage. May the gods bless him because I haven't heard some of these tunes in over 20 years!
Q: How did you devise this spectacular alter-ego Kid Creole?
The Kid Creole fantasy was manufactured by me merely to thumb my nose at my older brother. Pure sibling rivalry - nothing more, nothing less - created Kid Creole. As a member of the Savannah Band I was assigned the job of bassist, lyricist and background singer. I wanted more. Big brother wouldn't give it to me so I went out on a very thin limb and got it for myself. The Hollywood glamour, the marriage of big band sounds and contemporary dance and the New York City gangster look was all a part of Savannah Band already. I merely jumped ship with Sugar-Coated Andy Hernandez who became Coati Mundi, put a little more accent on the tropical flavorings of salsa, reggae and calypso and created a band where I could be the boss.
Q: Kid Creole overshadowed your achievements in the studio. Do you see this album as a way of redressing the balance?
Very fine point. Before the Kid became famous there was August Darnell: songwriter, producer and decent fellow. This album certainly does redress the balance. But I cannot take credit for the idea. I wish I could!